Play. Something that, as a kid, I couldn’t get enough of and largely took for granted. While I was mainly concerned with fun and winning, I was oblivious to the health benefits and life lessons play was providing me (hey, I was a kid!) Sadly, play is a rare commodity for many children in too many corners of the developing world. These kids would give anything to have a chance to kick and head a real soccer ball. One World Play Project, in partnership with Chevrolet, is working to solve that problem by distributing millions of One World Futbols to kids for whom that would be among life’s greatest gifts. And, since these unique soccer balls are ultra-durable, they are a green gift as well.
Arnold Ambiel has made a strong impact in his professional life. He went from saving many lives to changing perhaps millions of them (and he still may be saving them). You see, Ambiel’s first career was in the medical device world, working largely with start-ups in the Bay Area. The products these companies produced were designed to save lives.
Arnold Ambiel, Chief Operating Officer at One World Play Project. (Photo credit: Kevin Meynell)
Ambiel’s role in his 2nd career act, the one that changes lives, is as the Chief Operating Officer of One World Play Project (formerly One World Futbol Project), a B-Corporation that provides ultra-durable soccer balls, and thus, the transformative power of play, to millions of kids around the world.
“In 2012, many of my neighbors in Los Altos, CA were volunteering on local greening programs,” said Ambiel, “I realized that I could make a tremendous impact doing the same. Add to that, my family is soccer-crazy. So, when I connected with One World Play Project founder Tim Jahnigen, it seemed like it was destiny.”
The idea for the company came to Jahnigen in 2006 while watching news footage about traumatized refugee youth in Darfur, Sudan. The children were playing soccer on dirt using a ball they had made by tying trash together with twine. He envisioned a nearly indestructible ball that could withstand the harsh conditions often faced by youth living in refugee camps and other disadvantaged communities. Renowned musician Sting, a friend from Jahnigen’s work as a concert producer (nice friend to have!), provided funding for the development of the ball in 2008 and, after much research and development, the company was born as One World Futbol Project in 2010. A couple years later, Ambiel came into the picture—the company was still working off of Jahnigen’s kitchen table.
But, while the table might have been small, the vision was huge: To change the lives of children around the world through the power of play.
To realize that promise, two things had to happen:
- A major sponsor had to be sourced. In 2012, Chevrolet gained interest in the company.According to John Gasloli, senior marketing manager of football, Global Chevrolet, “Football (soccer) made sense as we looked to expand globally in markets like China and India. After all, 3.5 billion people are football fans. Then, we asked ourselves what could we do that aligned with our own brand values such as innovation, genius and ‘anything is possible’. When Jack Morton Worldwide, one of our marketing agencies, brought One World Play Project to us, we were intrigued by the simple mission of play and getting balls to kids in need.”Simplicity led to Chevrolet signing on as a Founding Sponsor of its first-ever unified global branding campaign with an audacious goal: Deliver 1.5 million One World Futbols in three years!
John Gasloli (l), Senior Marketing Manager of Football, Global Chevrolet, and Tim Jahnigen (r), Founder, One World Play Project at the celebration of the 1 millionth Chevrolet-sponsored One World Futbol donation in South Africa. (Photo credit: QuickPic)
- With Chevrolet on board, Ambiel and the One World Play Project team managed both the start-up of manufacturing One World Futbols and find partners who could distribute and receive the balls. The latter was not easy, as 160 countries around the world would ultimately receive the balls, including those in war zones like Afghanistan and Chad.
In November 2014, the company changed its name to One World Play Project—highlighting its expanded focus, mission and products. In the final month of its 3-year commitment with Chevrolet, over 1.4 million balls have been shipped around the world, impacting an estimated 45 million individuals.
In September 2014, One World Play Project and Chevrolet delivered the millionth Chevrolet-sponsored One World Futbol to the Mabu-a-Tlou Primary School in Hammanskraal, South Africa with partner Dreamfields. (Photo credit: Eunice Driver)
Beyond impressive distribution numbers, Chevrolet also measures success by clicks on its Chevrolet FC website, the number of views of its “Play” themed ads, and by the inspirational stories the ball distribution program generates.
Here’s one such story from John Gasloli: “My first trip while working with One World Play Project was in June 2013 to the Kibera area of Nairobi, Kenya. We went on a content capture/filming expedition. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa. The conditions there were horrific in ways that were life changing. I met a boy, about four years old and traded him a One World Futbol for his lopsided, stitched-together ball. He took it and immediately started to play. The smile on his face was incredible—more than pay-back for our investment.”
A boy in Kiberia plays with his new One World Futbol. (Photo credit: John Gasloli)
Now, you may ask, what’s the green aspect of One World Futbol/Play? This is, after all, GreenSportsBlog, right?
The One World Futbol’s durability is its greenness: Made from a proprietary cross-linked, closed cell foam Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) blend similar to, but stronger than rubber. The One World Futbol is more flexible, tear and abrasion resistant than a traditional ball–and it’s non-toxic. Thus, it can outlast hundreds of regular balls—eliminating the waste of discarded soccer balls and dramatically reducing the number of balls in landfills. Going forward, it would be great to see if One World Play Project decides to measure the carbon emissions avoided by said balls-in-landfill reductions.
One World Futbols, available at:
Beyond greening, what’s next for One World Play Project?
- Diversifying its product offerings: an ultra-durable cricket ball will launch later this year. One World Play Project is currently soliciting sponsors. So if you want to reach a portion of the estimated 5 billion cricket fans(it’s the 2nd most popular sport in the world), along with untold millions of players, give them a call. A One World Cricket Ball will definitley have particular appeal in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
- Improving existing products: new incarnations of the company’s flagship One World Futbol are on the drawing board, including a ball designed for blind players.
- New collaborations: One World Play Project and Chevrolet are considering opportunities beyond their initial sponsorship. Additionally, One World Play Project is looking to join forces with new sponsors and partners.
Taking a big picture look at the future, One World Play Project set one hell of an audacious goal for the next 10 years: To have impacted over 300 million people with its products. Ambiel and the rest of the company certainly have a busy decade ahead, producing and distributing balls, and changing lives!
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